Ranking Baltimore Ravens' Top Fantasy Football Producers for 2014

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIJuly 18, 2014

Ranking Baltimore Ravens' Top Fantasy Football Producers for 2014

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    The dawn of 2014 NFL training camps means that the ears of fantasy football players are starting to prick up as they prepare to crush their drafts. The Baltimore Ravens don’t have many fantasy studs who will form the core of your hypothetical roster, but the game is all about finding value, and the nine options listed here could provide a nice return on the investment you put in to acquiring them.

    These rankings are based on the order in which I would draft these players, so they are obviously affected by my preferred draft strategies (which will be explained when necessary).

    Regardless, the Ravens' fantasy options are divided into three very clear tiers: weekly starters, solid substitutes or bye-week fill-ins.

     

    Note: All average draft positions (ADP) mentioned are courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com

9. Ravens D/ST

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    Some people like to draft a defense/special teams to play for the majority of weeks. I’m not one of those people—and even if I were, the Ravens defense has a number of question marks and won’t be a very good fantasy option.

    I’m a devotee of the week-to-week matchup game when it comes to fantasy defenses, and a Week 1 home game against the Cincinnati Bengals isn’t a particularly juicy contest that should entice you to draft them (supported by their ranking as the 16th fantasy defense off the board).

    Baltimore could put up a dominant performance, but the Bengals offense is explosive and could rack up points, making it a relatively high-risk play.

    Over the course of the season, however, the Ravens D/ST has the potential to be a good fantasy play in certain weeks. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are talented enough to accumulate sacks, but the rest of the defense is unlikely to create many turnovers.

    The presence of Jacoby Jones is a nice touch if your league credits return yards/touchdowns to your defense, but the Ravens are only a midlevel fantasy defense that should be considered in favorable matchups (e.g. Week 3 at Cleveland, Week 4 vs. Carolina, Week 10 vs. Tennessee, Week 15 vs. Jacksonville, Week 16 at Houston and Week 17 vs. Cleveland).

8. Owen Daniels

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    This isn’t to say that you should draft Owen Daniels—it’s just a reflection of my firm belief in playing defenses by matchup. Owen Daniels at least has the potential to deliver consistent production, but he’s not worth a draft pick unless you’re in a league that requires you start two tight ends.

    No. 2 TEs are more productive in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s scheme than most, with the likes of Garrett Graham and James Casey (a tight-end fullback hybrid) emerging as solid fantasy plays on occasion.

    Nos. 8 and 9 on the list are the bye-week fill-ins, but both (and Daniels in particular) are worth monitoring, since they could become very useful bye-week replacements.

7. Justin Tucker

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    Drafting a kicker before the last two rounds is a no-no in my book, but you could do a lot worse than reaching for Justin Tucker.

    Tucker was an excellent kicker last year (both in fantasy and in reality), combining power and accuracy to rack up points over the course of the season.

    We’ve seen nothing to suggest a worse performance in 2014, and Tucker will once again be one of the best kickers in the league.

    The red-zone offense will hopefully be much better than it was in 2013, which could result in fewer field-goal attempts, but there could also be the added benefit of more extra-point attempts for the former Texas Longhorn.

    He’s definitely worth drafting, but only in the last two rounds.

6. Joe Flacco

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    Joe Flacco is certainly not a QB1, but the Ravens have put him in a position to bounce back from 2013 and exceed expectations this season.

    With a brilliant offensive mind calling the plays, an improved O-line to give him time in the pocket and an upgraded array of targets, Flacco could be a decent QB2 (in two-quarterback leagues) or a solid bye-week replacement for your primary passer.

    Inconsistency has been an issue for Flacco in the past, so picking the right spots is key.

    A Week 7 home game against the Atlanta Falcons seems like a perfect storm of favorable conditions (at M&T Bank Stadium), as the team will be facing a weak secondary and needing to put up points against a strong Falcons offense.

    Likewise, going on the road has been a weakness for him in the past, but Week 12 in New Orleans is a game where he’ll probably need to throw a lot and can take advantage of the perfect dome conditions.

    Don’t reach for Flacco, but he’s worth a flier in the later rounds for his upside, considering his fortunate circumstances. He’s currently not even getting drafted in 12-team leagues, so the potential return on the investment of picking him off the waiver wire is promising.

5. Bernard Pierce

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    Ray Rice had a disappointing season with 660 yards on the ground and four rushing TDS, but Bernard Pierce was equally ineffective with 436 rushing (2 TDs). Like his running mate, however, Pierce is also in line for a bounce-back season.

    Pierce was very good in his rookie year (532 yards on 108 carries), but he had to battle against a nagging injury and terrible offensive line play in 2013.

    He’s a great fit for Kubiak’s running scheme, and he’ll have the opportunity to be the lead back for the length of Rice’s pending suspension following assault charges.

    Keep an eye on how the workload is divided during preseason for an indication of whether Pierce will start to receive a bigger slice of the pie, but until then he should primarily be considered a handcuff for Rice.

    Regardless, he’ll still have a relatively important place in the offense even when Rice is back in the fold. Consequently, he’s a solid mid- to late-round flier for extra depth at the RB position with the bonus of his immediate production (which will be RB2-worthy) during Rice’s suspension.

4. Steve Smith Sr.

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    Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. projects to be a WR3 with upside in points-per-receptions leagues. Smith is unlikely to produce big numbers in terms of yards or touchdowns, but he can emerge as Flacco’s primary safety valve and rack up catches.

    Smith is the favorite to lead Baltimore in receptions, and he could parlay that into good fantasy production.

    He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on in preseason because he has the chance to become a focal point of the offense.

3. Dennis Pitta

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    Even if Dennis Pitta doesn’t put together a monster season, it’s hard to imagine him not finishing the year as a top-eight fantasy tight end at the very least.

    He’s lower in the fantasy rankings than his numbers suggest, but that’s because of the depth at the position after Jimmy Graham, who is all by himself in the first tier of fantasy TEs.

    Pitta is in the position’s second tier, with the likes of Rob Gronkowski (injury concerns), Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Jordan Cameron, Greg Olsen and Jordan Reed.

    All of those players (plus Pitta) are expected to finish with relatively similar numbers, so for that reason it doesn’t make sense to reach for Pitta (or any TE for that matter)—rather, just wait to see which of that group starts to fall and then pounce on him.

    In PPR leagues, however, Pitta could very well become the best (and most consistent) fantasy threat on the Ravens roster.

    His rapport with Flacco is hard to miss, and he’s sure to see a ton of targets thrown his way. Given the success of other TEs in Kubiak’s system, it could very easily be Pitta (and not Smith) who leads the team in receptions. In addition Pitta is a better bet to rack up more TDs.

    The BYU product is definitely a player to flag in your fantasy draft. He could be the TE who starts to fall because he missed so much of last season (currently the ninth TE off the board). It’s unlikely that he’s a flop at that draft slot (barring injury), and he could turn out to be one of the better fantasy options at his position.

2. Ray Rice

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    If you were paying attention in 2013, it’s hard to imagine that Rice is still a valuable fantasy asset, and nobody would blame you for staying away if you drafted him last season. With a suspension looming, you can’t draft him in one of the first four rounds, and the length of that suspension will ultimately determine where he goes off the board.

    Nevertheless, Rice is a buy-low candidate with the chance to greatly outperform his expected draft slot. Currently, he’s the 28th running back off the board, which is a fair ranking, considering that he’s coming off the worst season of his career and is likely to miss around four games.

    But running back is a scarce fantasy position, and there are a number of reasons to expect Rice to bounce back in 2014 (once he actually gets on the field).

    For starters, the two biggest reasons for his miserable 2013 campaign were nagging injuries and nonexistent blocking.

    Rice is now fully healthy and has even shed a few pounds to regain his quickness and explosiveness. According to Flacco, as relayed by Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk), it’s working.

    Additionally, the O-line has been revamped, and running backs have fared very well under Kubiak in the past.

    You shouldn’t reach for Rice, but he has the talent and the situation to become an absolute steal and be a weekly RB2 once he’s back from suspension—especially in PPR leagues.

1. Torrey Smith

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    Choosing the No. 1 option was tough, but Torrey Smith gets the nod because of the uncertainty surrounding Rice’s suspension.

    Smith started 2013 with a bang, racking up 27 receptions for 556 yards in the first five weeks of the season (average of 5.4 receptions for 111 yards per game). After that point, however, the Ravens stopped getting him the ball on short, underneath routes as much, and defenses started to key in on Smith, double-covering him and letting other Ravens receivers beat them—which never happened.

    It’s tough to predict how the offensive overhaul will impact certain players, but there are a few reasons to be optimistic about Smith this season:

    • Teammates and coaches are constantly raving about his work ethic, per Ryan Mink of the team's official website, and he’s always improved over every offseason
    • The added weapons will reduce the targets going his way, but it will mean more opportunities for big plays and more TDs as defenses can’t bracket him so readily
    • Primary receivers have typically done very well in Kubiak’s system
    • He’s in a contract year

    Torrey Smith isn’t going to be a No. 1 WR for your fantasy squad, but he’s a good bet to outperform his current draft slot (26th WR off the board) and be a very good No. 2 receiver for your team.